By Olakunle Adeniyi, with agency report
No fewer than 2,570 aides are engaged by the 469 members of the 8thNational Assembly, an investigation by the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, has revealed.
Out of the number, 700 aides work for lawmakers in the Senate, while the remaining 1, 870 are engaged by House of Representatives members.
As provided in the National Assembly Act, each lawmaker, excluding principal officers, is entitled to five aides – one senior legislative aide, two legislative aides, a personal assistant and a secretary.
It was discovered that in the provision, President of the Senate is entitled to 45 aides, his deputy, 30, and 20 each for principal officers.
Similarly, Speaker of the House of Representatives has 35 assistants, Deputy Speaker, 15 and 10 each for the six principal officers.
The number of aides to each legislator, it was gathered, includes those in their Constituency offices.
The monthly emolument of the aides, which ranged from N150, 000 to N250, 000, sources close to the assembly said, has been reduced to between N75, 000 and N180, 000 by the current leadership of the assembly.
The investigation revealed that in addition to the regular aides, the principal officers of both chambers have Special Assistants, Senior Special Assistants and Special Advisers of varying numbers.
CHEATING THE SYSTEM
However, NAN gathered that some of the lawmakers, especially principal officers, have more than the statutorily approved number of aides in their employ, who also draw their salary from the assembly’s funds.
Some lawmakers, however, pay the aides from their own resources.
It was also revealed that many legislators draw the emolument of their aides from the assembly’s funds but pay them fractions. Some of the lawmakers employed only one or two aides but are collecting the full salary for the five they are entitled to.
This act was discovered to be perpetrated more by the members through their constituency offices, which they are mandatorily expected to have in their areas, but deliberately failed to do so.
They submit names of non-existent staff in the constituency office to the national assembly service commission and collect their entitlements directly.
An aide to a senator from the South-West, working with him in Abuja, told NAN that he had never heard of other aides or office his boss had in his constituency.
“All of us, his aides are here; it is only when he is travelling to the state that he goes with the senior legislative aide and his younger brother.
“The brother works with him; he is not documented but he is in charge whenever oga (the boss) is not around.
“But, all of us are always in the office in Abuja, I do not know of assistant or aide he has at the constituency level or in the state,” he said, adding that it was the same with some other lawmakers.
The source declined to disclose his salary, allowance and pay point, but said that the emolument depended on the grade of the aide.
He, however, disclosed that the least-paid aide earned N120, 000 from the assembly commission.
The lawmakers contacted on the issue declined to comment, with some of them saying that they were complying with the rules.
The Clerk of the National Assembly and officials in his office also rebuffed enquires on the issues.
Reacting to the findings by NAN, some stakeholders called for reduction in the number of aides working for federal lawmakers and a slash in their pay.
They told NAN that the reduction was necessary in view of the current economic challenges facing the country.
Ahmed Haruna, a trader in Wuse Market in Abuja said “from my own point of view, I think the number of aides assigned to legislators is much and consumes a huge amount from public funds.
“These aides are paid monthly but if their number is slashed and their pay reduced, the money can be redirected into providing infrastructure in the country.”
Paul Imohiosen, a civil servant, believes that the lawmakers do not need the number of aides they are officially entitled to.
He said, “some of these aides are not useful; most of them are there for mere decoration. They are just too many.
“The country’s economy has gone into recession so this is not the appropriate time to use as much as 45 or 35 aides by one government official.’’
Mr. Imohiosen also decried the number of security details attached to some government officials and other elite in the country.
In her view, Igoni Mirabel, a student, insisted that there was need to cut the number and salary, respectively, of the legislative aides by 50 per cent.
“The 50 per cent cut should serve as intervention and the remaining percentage could be used judiciously to improve the economy of the country.
“The Nigeria economy is in a bad state presently, so all expenses must be cut down so that the citizens can benefit immensely,” she added.
On her part, Imelda Omelogo said that the number of aides and their emoluments “does not suggest a prudent approach to the management of public expenditure.
“If the call for the reduction in number of aides to the lawmakers is implemented, it will greatly reduce wastage, thereby leaving more money to be ploughed into other sectors.’’
Condemning the large number of the federal lawmakers’ aides, Emmanuel Sawyer, a legal practitioner, said it did not tally with the economic hardship in the country.
He said the number of aides should have been slashed along with their salaries by the new leadership of the national assembly.
“We are in a period when Nigeria is facing recession and the cost of running government is still too high.
“At this point in time, we should be talking of merging both chambers into one to reduce the cost of running governance,” Mr. Sawyer said.
Teddy Nwanunobi, a civil servant, said that it was unfair for such big salaries to be paid to aides of lawmakers when they were not doing any work commensurate to the pay.
Mr. Nwanunobi questioned why some of the principal officers should be entitled to many aides.
“My honest thinking is that the principal officers do not need more than five aides to start with. That way, the aides would be up the task on their duties.
“Secondly, the nearly N1 million monthly salary is just too large for one aide; most of them do not merit that sum, and that’s why they misbehave.
“Personally, I suggest that aides should be graded, and salaries paid accordingly; their salaries should not only be slashed, but paid in accordance with grade and level,’’ he said.
Adanna Uwaleme, a political analyst, however said that the call for slash in the number of aides to the lawmakers should be extended to the Executive arm of government.
Ms. Uwaleme said most of the ministers, and even the President, have too many aides.
She said, however, that she was not suggesting that people be sacked but said that there was need to save cost.
“There is no need employing too many aides and paying them so much when other people who do so much work are paid very little.
“I feel that there should be a harmonisation of salaries and allowances of aides and staff of choice government agencies like the NNPC and FIRS with other federal workers.
“There is no justification for paying someone in NNPC so much salary while his colleague on the same level in the ministry takes less than quarter of his salary,” she said.
Emeka Ogwuru, a businessman, said that those on the payroll of the lawmakers were “just lucky; many other Nigerians would do anything to get the same position.
“Even if it’s N400,000 a month, at least they can afford a bag of rice, a basket of tomatoes, 50 litres of petrol and book a local flight online in this recession,” he said.